Boris Johnson says he ‘bitterly regrets’ care home coronavirus ‘crisis’ in PMQs clash with Keir Starmer
Boris Johnson at PMQs (Parliament TV)
Boris Johnson has said he “bitterly regrets” the “crisis” Britain’s care homes are facing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Prime Minister said the Government had been “working very hard for weeks” to tackle the spread of the virus as the latest figures showed deaths in care settings continued to rise even amid a fall in Covid-19 hospital deaths.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday show that there were 5,890 coronavirus-related care home deaths registered in England and Wales up to April 24 - a sharp rise from just over 3,000 the week before.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked why the Government had not “got to grips with this already”.
Mr Johnson replied: “He is quite right, of course, to look at the crisis in care homes, and he is absolutely right to say there is an epidemic going on in care homes which is something I bitterly regret and we’ve been working very hard for weeks to get it down.”
He added: “A huge amount of effort has been gone into, by literally tens of thousands of people, to get the right PPE [personal protective equipment] to care homes, to encourage workers in care homes to understand what is needed.
“And I can tell him actually, that he is not right in what he just said about the state of the epidemic. If he looks at the figures, in the last few days there has been a palpable improvement. We must hope that that continues and we will ensure that it does continue.”
STARMER: TESTING 'FALLEN BACK'
But Sir Keir pointed out that deaths in care homes had risen every time the ONS reported statistics - and trained his fire on the Government’s bid to significantly ramp up coronavirus testing after a start he branded “too slow”.
“On the 30 April, the Government claimed success in meeting its 100,000 tests a day target. Since then, as the PM knows, the number has fallen back,” the Labour leader said.
And he asked: “On Monday there were just 84,000 tests and that meant 24,000 available tests were not used. What does the Prime Minister think was so special about the 30 April that meant that testing that day was so high?”
Mr Johnson heaped praise on the “amazing work” of NHS staff in dramatically increasing the UK’s testing capacity from 2,000 tests a day in March.
And he told Sir Keir: “Yes, he is right that capacity currently exceeds demand. We are working on that. We are running at about 100,000 a day, but the ambition clearly is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of this month and then to go even higher.
“And as he knows... a fantastic testing regime is going to be absolutely critical to our long term economic recovery.”
The Prime Minister was also quizzed on the speed of the Government “test, track and trace” strategy to map the spread of the coronavirus, amid criticism that countries including South Korea and Germany raced ahead of Britain in their own response.
The UK this week launched a limited trial of a new NHS contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, but Sir Keir asked: “Why was contact tracing abandoned in mid-March and not restarted sooner?”
Mr Johnson shot back: “The difficulty in mid-March was the tracing capacity that we had.
“And that had been useful, as he rightly says, in the containment phase of the epidemic.
“That capacity was no longer useful or relevant since the transmission from individuals within the UK meant that it exceeded our capacity then.
“Now, the value of the test, tracking and tracing operation that we are setting out now is that as we come out of the epidemic, and as we get the new cases down, we will have a team that will genuinely be able to track and trace hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and thereby to drive down the epidemic.”
He added: “I think most people with common sense can see those particular difficulties that we had at the time.“
But the Labour leader said the Tory leader had “confirmed it was a capacity problem” with testing that had slowed the initial response to Covid-19.